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Meet the 2014 NY/NJ GEM Award winners

Monday July 14, 2014
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Nurse.com prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at the GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Award programs. Held in cities throughout the United States, these celebrations honor exceptional nurses from all specialties and practice settings, and each culminates in the naming of regional winners in six categories.
The regional winners move on to compete in the GEM national nurse of the year program.
“Our nursing excellence GEM Awards program shines brightly once again as we salute our 2014 regional winners,” said Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive. “Nominated and selected by their colleagues, they truly epitomize nursing at its best. We are honored to present them with our prestigious GEM Awards and privileged to recognize them publicly for their many contributions to nursing and healthcare.”
This year’s regional GEM program took place June 3 at the Teaneck (N.J.) Marriott at Glenpointe.
Nurse.com is pleased to introduce the 2014 Nurse.com GEM Award regional winners.


ADVANCING AND LEADING THE PROFESSION

Judith Aponte, RN, PhD, CDE, CCM, APHN-BC
Associate professor, Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, Manhattan

Upon learning she had been nominated in this category, Aponte said she was honored to know her nominator thought she met the criteria.
“To see the list of finalists, of people who had an extensive professional career and were known throughout the profession, I was surprised to be viewed and recognized at such a distinguished level,” she said.
Aponte’s impressive work with New York’s Hispanic population led to her nomination.
She is a strong advocate for identifying and remedying health disparities in Hispanics, especially those with diabetes, and her work has garnered global recognition.
“The motivation to want to improve the health of Hispanics with diabetes, particularly of the highly vulnerable (e.g., Spanish-speaking only, uninsured, undocumented immigrants) and to reduce disparities, has driven me to focus my research on diabetes among Hispanics,” she said.
Her findings on diabetes-related issues affecting Hispanic subgroups and ways to improve outcomes in Hispanics in the South Bronx — one of the poorest urban areas of the U.S. — has been translated for use by Hispanics globally.
Aponte is a strong believer in increasing the numbers of Hispanic nurses and in mentoring and cultivating students to become effective nurse leaders. She said her dedication to these students stems from her personal life.
“My mother inspired me by her teachings on the importance of growing, to always pursue my passion and to never give up,” she said. “I feel that teaching and mentoring is a very important and essential aspect of advancing the profession. The drive to contribute to increasing the visibility of Hispanic nurses has motivated me to include Hispanic nursing students into my research team, to co-author with me and to present at conferences.”
As a regional GEM winner, Aponte is bound to receive even more recognition for her endeavors. She said the honor serves as validation of the work she is doing, although she admits to being caught by surprise.
“After winning the award, someone asked me, ‘Why did you think you would not win?’ I said, ‘I felt that what I was doing is what every nurse in a leadership or academic setting should be doing, and I did not think I was doing anything special,’” she said.


CLINICAL NURSING, INPATIENT

Claire Carmody, RN, BSN, OCN
Clinical nurse 4, Memorial Sloan Kettering
Cancer Center, Manhattan

For Carmody, being named a regional finalist is something she never could have imagined, specifically because nursing wasn’t her first choice as a profession.
She began her nursing career at MSKCC only seven years ago as a new graduate.
“I came to nursing as a second career looking for a better way to connect with people,” she said.
Through her work with oncology patients and her dedication to ensuring her colleagues are better prepared to care for them, it is evident that she found her calling. As co-chairwoman of the divisional quality safety council, Carmody has implemented effective safety programs.
One such program, “Your Safety in Your Hands: Unit-Based Safety Council Strives to Increase Patient Participation in Falls Prevention in the Inpatient Oncology Setting,” actively involves patients in falls prevention. Carmody has brought improvements to frontline staff through her quarterly “Culture of Safety” lecture series that is offered to all acute care and critical care/pediatrics staff.
The lunch-and-learn style lectures cover a broad spectrum of patient safety topics that are timely and relevant. More than 900 staff members have attended the lectures.
Carmody said her inspiration comes from the people for whom she cares. “I am inspired daily by my patients and their caretakers,” she said. “Working in oncology means that sometimes you are caring for people on the worst day of their life. And on that day, trust is completely relinquished to you as the nurse. It’s a heavy burden at times, but it’s also a beautiful way to connect with others.”
She credits the exceptional mentors and teachers she had as a new nurse at MSKCC.
“I am motivated by my fellow colleagues and mentors from MSKCC,” she said. “It sounds trite, but after all these years I still admire and look to my original preceptor as an exemplar of professional nursing.”
Carmody said the excitement of being named the regional winner was overwhelming.
“At every point during this process, I have been surprised, humbled and overwhelmed to be recognized as an exceptional nurse,” she said. “It seems nearly impossible that I have been singled out amongst my colleagues and the other finalists.”


EDUCATION AND MENTORSHIP

Janet Mackin, RN, EdD
Dean, Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing, Manhattan

No one at the Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing would have been surprised to hear that Mackin had been nominated and named a GEM Award winner in the Education and Mentorship category.
As the school’s dean, she is well-known for student advocacy and passion and for providing an environment where both graduate and undergraduate students and faculty can thrive. Her nominator wanted everyone to know how important Mackin is to the staff and students and how vital her leadership is to the profession as a whole.
“The simple words, ‘May I nominate you?’ were the start of the most amazing experience of my career,” Mackin said. “Knowing that there was someone who thought that my contributions to the profession were worthy of an award was deeply touching.”
Mackin developed a mentoring program for full- and part-time faculty. Her dedication to, and collaborative working relationship with, faculty played a major role in the school achieving Regents Accreditation as a college in 2012.
As founder of the Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing Honor Society, Mackin led the charge to establish an RN-to-BSN degree program, one of a few hospital-based nursing programs to offer both associate and baccalaureate nursing education.
She led the initiation of the National League for Nursing’s Center of Excellence designation and was instrumental in developing a program for students that encourages a proactive approach to good health.
Among her other achievements are the development and implementation of the Eye-to-Eye program, in collaboration with Beth Israel Medical Center physicians, that is geared toward enhancing interprofessional communication between students, nurses and physicians; and the school’s publication of a children’s book titled, “I Want to Be a Nurse, Do You?”
Mackin said the faculty at PBISN inspire her and that students’ education is in good hands.
“When I look around me, I see educators — savvy veterans and motivated newbies — pouring their hearts and souls into teaching our students,” she said. “The new faculty members remind me of my long-ago self, but they are wiser. They bring energy, new ideas and electrify the environment. They make me feel younger and older at the same time. They are the future, and they are exciting.”


HOME, COMMUNITY AND AMBULATORY CARE

Susan Morin, RN, MS, PMHCNS-BC, NPP
Director of adolescent and eating disorder partial
hospitalization program, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Port Jefferson, N.Y.

A psychiatric NP who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, Morin’s passion for her specialty did not go unnoticed, thanks to the GEM Awards submission that her nominator wrote.
“[Morin] demonstrates compassion and kindness in all of her interactions,” according to the nomination. “This forms the basis of a therapeutic relationship that enables her to assist the patient to address the clinical issues necessary to begin the path to recovery.”
To provide her patients with the best care possible, Morin expanded the eating disorder program from a three-day-a-week, three-hour-a-day program to a five-day-a-week partial hospitalization program that provides comprehensive interdisciplinary treatment for eating disorder patients.
Under Morin’s direction, patient satisfaction surveys for the adolescent treatment and eating disorder programs she runs are consistently above 90%.
“Everyone who enters our doors is family,” she said. “Each patient is treated with the dedication, honor and respect we would expect for ourselves or for our loved ones.”
Morin also established an eating disorder support group that continues free of charge at Mather on a monthly basis, along with free weekly eating disorder screenings at the partial hospitalization program. “It is my belief that every intervention along the way paves the road to restoration of health and well being,” she said. “I am always honored to be a part of the patient’s journey.”
As a Mather employee, Morin became affiliated with the National Eating Disorder Association of Long Island and was a board member until 2011, when the affiliate was absorbed into the national organization. She was the only nursing representation on the NEDA-LI board, a point she said is notable for a psychiatric nurse.
“Psychiatry as a specialty presents a unique challenge in that often the patient — due to the influences of their illness — has lost the impetus to thrive,” she said. “Treatment begins [by] convincing the individual that they are worthy of love and respect, deserving of compassion and empathy, capable of success and recovery, and instilling the belief that they are in the trusting hands of those who will be their educators and supports.”


PATIENT AND STAFF MANAGEMENT

Denise Fochesto, RN, MSN, APN-C, CCRN
Manager, ICU, MICU, Hyperbaric & Nursing
Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center

It has been said that the most effective leaders are those who empower their staff, and Fochesto is one of those managers. In turn, she credits her staff as the reason she is so successful.
“My staff inspire me every day,” she said. “Not only do they provide exceptional patient care, but they are invested in their own professional development. Watching them grow is inspiring in itself.”
Fochesto’s commitment to patients and staff made her a clear choice for regional GEM Award winner in the Patient and Staff Management category.
Under her leadership, Morristown’s hyperbaric medicine service received accreditation with distinction from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. Her achievements include managing patient-endowed staff education funds for critical-care nursing staff to promote continuing education and certification. At the time of Fochesto’s nomination, 69 ICU RNs were certified in critical care — with nine nurses holding dual certification — and 100% of the ICU nursing leadership team had completed MSN degrees and professional certification.
Fochesto credits her mentor and CNO, Trish O’Keefe, RN, PhD, NE-BC, with being “a role model for staff development.”
During her interim leadership of the orthopedic surgery department, Fochesto served as project leader for Joint Commission accreditation for disease-specific certification for total hip and knee replacement and for lumbar and cervical spine disease-specific certification. She is proud that both certifications have been renewed by her successors.
As a manager of the nursing education department from 2001 to 2009, Fochesto sought support to fund and develop a human simulation laboratory. A grant proposal and business plan she wrote secured funds for an animal-assisted activities program to enhance the healing experiences of patients and families. The project was adopted systemwide and extended to create a center of excellence for animal-assisted therapy.
Fochesto, who recently became director of nursing and operations at Newtown (N.J.) Memorial Hospital, said she was touched after learning a peer nominated her for a GEM Award.
“Advancing to the finalist category and becoming an actual regional winner was extremely exciting, especially since I am sure there were probably many qualified and deserving nominations,” she said.


VOLUNTEERISM AND SERVICE

Kathe M. Conlon, RN, BSN, CEM, MSHS
Burn emergency preparedness coordinator, Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Barnabas Health Office of Emergency Management, Livingston, N.J.

Conlon traces her dedication to helping others back to an early time in her life. “My maternal grandmother was, and still is, my inspiration for becoming a nurse,” she said. “She immigrated to this county as a poor, young child and at a time when women were not well educated and certainly never encouraged to become independent, she successfully received her nursing degree.”
That spirit has flourished in Conlon and enabled her to accomplish things that some may deem as untraditional. She is the first woman and first RN to join the New Jersey Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue, a team consisting mainly of firefighters that assists local forces by providing additional expertise and equipment in large-scale rescue efforts.
Conlon volunteers as the team’s senior nurse logistics leader. Her first assignment was during 9/11, when she carried first aid and medical equipment to care for both victims and team members. The team worked out of tents at the Jacob Javitz Center in midtown Manhattan.
It was there that then-acting New Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, while traveling with President George W. Bush, introduced Conlon to Bush as one of the nurses who saved his daughter’s life years ago after she sustained extensive burns.
Recently, Conlon helped residents affected by severe flooding in northern New Jersey and on the Jersey Shore during Superstorm Sandy. She also spent two days in the Meadowlands working on medical logistics during the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey.
In her daily work, she has assisted in the development and provision of disaster programs for Saint Barnabas. Her work to create a policy to identify the burn injured and have them moved to the best local facility until they can be transferred to a long-term burn center has led to her developing a Web-based program to triage, track and transfer patients from a mass casualty incident.
Conlon attributes her tenacity for volunteering to those around her. She said her grandmother was well respected by patients and colleagues and never stopped “being a nurse.”
“I’ve been inspired by example,” she said. “I can only hope that I’m able to carry on this tradition in the same positive manner that has been shown to me.”


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Online resources

Learn more about the Nurse.com GEM Awards program by visiting www.Nurse.com/Nursing-Excellence.